Adobo a Go-Go

Fast food done right

Photo by Keith MayAh, fast-food restaurants: killers of taste, expanders of waists. Eric Schlosser wants to eliminate you, while activists actively pursue various boycotts against your most successful practitioners. Is it time to abandon your sorry service, rancid restrooms and foul food for good, thereby eliminating the mother's milk of office workers and graduate students nationwide?

Hindi.

That's not "Hindi" as in Hindi Hindi, but rather "Hindi" as in Tagalog Hindi, which means "no." Yes? Okay.

So, fast-food crapulenteurs, I command thee to take up some Tagalog—the national language of the Philippines—and talk to the folks at Filipino Express, located waaaaaayup there in the farthest possible corner of Buena Park. Learn well from this tiny joint, as it has restored the art of fast food to its original intention: serving grub as quickly and as tasty as possible.

Still, when you enter Filipino Express, you may be given to scoff in disbelief, you pompous bastard. Fast-food restaurants aren't supposed to have immaculate tiled floors, wooden chairs and mirrors around the wall. Where are the sticky pseudo-plastic booths? And the service is always given with a smile that originates in actual human warmth. Where's the frontal-lobotomy-induced grin?

But it is a fast-food restaurant. The offerings at Filipino Express are not complicated, having already been prepared for quick pickings and presented buffet-style. But all this lying around under heat lamps has not made the food as tasty as a microwaved burger. The perpetual lunch special comes with one or two entrées and your choice of either rice or pansit noodles (tiny tasty noodles combined with tiny tasty cabbage, celery and carrots). Ask for both and drown them in a vinegar-like white sauce that gives anything it touches the right sour kick.

You'll have to choose from more than 20 different entrées, but all of them are so delicious it's really a matter of deciding which one you want spilling over the Styrofoam plate it's served on. A good starting point is adobo, a traditional Filipino dish made of pork, beef or chicken marinated in vinegar, soy sauce, pepper and garlic. The result is a dish so sweet (in a garlicky sort of way) and soft you can actually eat the few bones that are left without choking.

More adventurous types should go with the lechon kawali, deep-fried pork belly complete with yellow portions of cholesterol-packed fat. Forget that tingling sensation in your left arm and consume this delicious dish. Or you can go for the barbecued pork or chicken—nicely grilled chunks of meat slathered with an especially tasty sauce and served kebab-style. Whatever type of meat you order, though, make sure to balance it with the stir-fried vegetables, a concoction of legumes served drowning in a broth so delicious it should be repackaged as a beverage.

And make sure to leave some room for a Filipino dessert, one of the best-kept secrets in the sweets galaxy. You can order the turon, an egg-roll-like dessert that is made with fried bananas and can be eaten as an appetizer or dessert proper. But no Filipino meal is complete without halo-halo, the legendarily addictive dessert that's made of ice cream, various fruits and sweet beans, condensed milk, little gelatin cubes, and crushed ice. Served like a smoothie, the thing is so sweet you'll be suffering from a sugar high for the foreseeable future.

If all fast-food restaurants were like Filipino Express, "fast food" would retake its place as an acceptable resident in the cuisine neighborhood. Beautiful environment, delicious food and actual humanity—all of these things are possible, Messrs. Ronald, Sanders and Chihuahua.

Filipino Express, located at 4544 Beach Blvd., Buena Park, is open Mon.-Sat., 10 a.m.-8 p.m. (714) 739-4479. No alcohol. Dinner for two, $10, food only. Cash only.

 
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